BOOKS: Spending a Little Time with Picasso; Visiting Picasso - the Notebooks and Letters of Roland Penrose by Elizabeth Cowling, Thames & Hudson, Pounds 25. Reviewed by Richard Edmonds

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Byline: by Richard Edmonds

To get near to Picasso in the 1920s and 30s became increasingly difficult as his reputation in the world began to soar. Few people were allowed to move through his various studios with any degree of ease. But one of them was the English art historian, Roland Penrose, who detailed the days he spent with the world's most influential artist in a series of intimate diaries.

These jottings in little notebooks have now been published for the first time - in an edition edited by Elizabeth Cowling - and they make compulsive reading, since they are unedited, on-the-spot observations of Picasso at home with his intimate family or among friends. Penrose noted everything and anything' it might have been a lunch, a row with one of his mistresses, or a ramble through the gardens at La Californie, Picasso's French chateau always buzzing with life or filled with people posing for photographs or whispering or laughing together.

"I wish I had known my grandfather better," Picasso's grandson told me recently during a long conversation I had with him when I met him in London. But Penrose was luckier in every way. He admired Picasso's erotic work with its overtones of the mythic or the expressionistic.

But like all good diarists, Penrose (according to Elizabeth Cowling had earlier removed what he called "the shadows" for his previous book which he called Picasso, His Life And Work.

Penrose had no wish to cause Picasso offence, therefore his childish temper tantrums, his overt hypochondria and his frequent rages were discreetly rubbed out.

But in this book they are back in all their fascinating awfulness, it is Picasso's personal voice which comes across heard at that particular moment when Penrose was standing nearby, thus answering the timeless question, "what was he really like?"

For Penrose the Picasso he sketched in his notes and jottings was the real man who appeared from behind the public image, like the old fortune teller who appears from behind the mask in The Wizard of Oz.

There were many mistresses and probably just as many sexual opportunists in Picasso's life. There were also wild, temperamental explosions between them all.

The fractured portrait of Dora Maar, who lived with the artist in the 1930s early 40s gives some indication of Picasso's deep seated, almost volcanic frustrations. …